To support students, leverage future teachers as high-dosage tutors

In Texas, Dean Frank Hernandez of TCU’s College of Education receives calls daily from schools and families looking for tutors for their students, sharing, “Families are worried about lost and unfinished learning. I’m worried too.” 

He’s not alone. Across the country, schools are looking for creative, research-backed ways to support students whose learning has been disrupted by the pandemic. One promising way is to leverage future teachers as high-dosage tutors.   

For example, future teachers at the University of Tennessee Knoxville are providing virtual tutoring to K-8 students in the care of Centro Hispano — a community organization dedicated to providing critical resources and education to Latinx families in Knoxville. Further north, Governor Hogan of Maryland announced $100 million to support targeted tutoring for at-risk students; these funds are quickly being put to use by local schools to partner with institutions, like Salisbury University on the eastern shore, to pay their teacher-candidates as tutors. Northern Illinois University is leveraging its reading specialist candidates to provide targeted tutoring services to struggling readers at a local elementary school. 

This is just a handful of the promising, dedicated actions that leaders of teacher-preparation programs are taking to provide essential services during the ongoing pandemic. While the structures of these initiatives vary in response to local needs, they all share the same three benefits. 

First, they support students’ academic and social-emotional development. While the evidence base surrounding tutoring is mixed, the model of high-dosage tutoring is strongly backed by research. As schools continue to adapt to the realities of virtual, hybrid, and socially-distant, in-person learning, the anticipated learning loss associated with the pandemic continues to grow. Aspiring teachers serving as tutors can build the capacity of schools to offer targeted academic and social-emotional support to students who have fallen further behind over the course of the last several months. 

Second, they create meaningful practice experiences for the future teacher workforce. Aspiring teachers want (and are usually required) to be in front of students to develop their craft. Many institutions are struggling to find enough placements to support these necessary practice opportunities for their candidates. Candidates can be supported as tutors by offering a stipend. Absent a stipend, states can recognize candidates by allowing the tutoring services they provide in-person, online, or in non-school based settings (e.g. Boys & Girls Clubs) to satisfy clinical experience requirements. 

Finally, they mitigate the educational inequities of the pandemic. Many of the solutions to unfinished and lost learning that families with means are putting together, like creating learning pods and hiring private tutors and teachers, are out of reach for low-income families. Tutoring programs run through teacher-preparation programs can help stem these inequities by providing no-cost services to our highest-need learners and schools. Further, these tutoring services can have the dual benefit of providing parents with more hours of childcare — another hurdle for our highest-need communities. 

Establishing effective tutoring programs requires a significant investment, and, unfortunately, many of these innovative opportunities lack the resources needed to impact more students. 

With a dedicated, national effort, we can tap into a broader pool of 450,000 future teachers to build a cadre of tutors. Specifically, lawmakers should fund local partnerships between teacher-preparation programs, schools, and community-based organizations to establish and/or scale high-quality tutoring opportunities, especially for our highest need schools and students. Such legislation would support meaningful learning opportunities for students and enhance the teacher pipeline.  

At a moment of incredible division in our country, we have evidence that these ideas have bipartisan appeal. This is an opportunity for a broad coalition of lawmakers and organizations to work together to leverage the full strength of the future teacher workforce to accelerate our nation’s educational and economic recovery.

Patrick Steck

Vice President, External Affairs

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